Annual Report | February 26, 2021
Annual Report 2020: Revitalizing Open Space
The following blog post is an excerpt from our 2020 annual report that you can read here.
This past year was always going to be busy for NYRP’s Operations and Capital teams: we began 2020 with ambitious plans to renovate over 15 green spaces for community partners and totally overhaul two of our biggest gardens all while continuing our routine maintenance rounds throughout the city.
When COVID-19 hit in March though, priorities across the organization shifted immediately to protect the health and safety of our staff, partners, contractors, and communities. With stringent public health protocols soon in place, our crew began the spring season as truly essential workers responsible for stewarding 52 parks and gardens across all five boroughs. We’ve always known our work’s value, but almost overnight, it became vital for a city on lockdown.
It was clear by late spring that operating under the pandemic was our new normal, and empowered by a deep sense of purpose, our team remained committed to finishing as much of our original 2020 plan as possible.
“I really wanted to complete the new raised bed and urban agriculture projects so our partners would still have a food growing season,” says Director of Garden Horticulture and Citywide Greening Projects Jason Sheets, who oversees our Gardens for the City (GFTC) program. After revamping Poppa and Momma Jones and Davidson Avenue Community Gardens in a little over two weeks, our GFTC staff kicked off the season by building 24 new raised beds—without their usual volunteer assistance and while wearing masks—in the South Bronx and East New York.
While projects with local partners forged ahead, continuing major renovations in two of our own community gardens, Bathgate and Aberdeen, presented different challenges. A mandatory work stoppage in March paused contractor construction jobs and sent many plans back to the drawing board. Once work could continue to complete raised beds, wide lawns, picnic areas, and other state-of-the-art garden elements, all systems were go. “Even though they became more complicated, these projects focused my team on tangible, positive work in the midst of everything,” says Chief of Capital Gary Dearborn. “We’ve made real improvements in our small piece of the world that will help people for years to come.”
Looking back, 2020 may have been our busiest year to date, and under extreme conditions no less. Bathgate—our largest, most complex garden design so far—finished under budget. Aberdeen is nearly complete. “What we built is truly optimal for everyone,” says Dearborn.
As for Gardens for the City, despite having to start weeks behind schedule, the crew completed 18 green space transformation projects at sites including schools, rehabilitation centers, and harm reduction facilities. In fact, many partners who were forced to pause their in-person programs because of COVID gained an outdoor venue for safely restarting their services thanks to our support. “I’m still hearing from our partners that before we arrived, they didn’t realize that they had an outdoor space at all,” says Sheets. “It feels great to do projects like this in a normal year,” he adds, “and much more in a time when parks and community gardens are some of the few spaces New Yorkers have to feel safe.”